Norwich University of the Arts to take over former Open venue

The former Open venue on Bank Plain.

Norwich University of the Arts is to expand into the former Open venue on Bank Plain. - Credit: Andi Sapey

One of the city’s most prominent buildings, empty since the collapse of a youth charity, is being taken over by Norwich University of the Arts.

The historic former banking hall 20 Bank Plain is set to house facilities including exhibition and performance spaces, student facilities and a cafe, after NUA confirmed it had struck a deal with The Lind Trust, which owns the building.

NUA vice-chancellor Professor Simon Ofield-Kerr

NUA vice-chancellor Professor Simon Ofield-Kerr - Credit: Andi Sapey

University vice-chancellor, Professor Simon Ofield-Kerr, said: “Acquiring this landmark building signals our ambition for the future of the university as an international centre of excellence in creative arts and technologies.”

The Grade II listed building in a prominent position at the top of Prince of Wales Road was built for Barclays Bank in 1926 although Gurney’s Bank, its antecedents had been on this site from 1779. 

More recently the building had been home to the OPEN Youth Trust for 15 years until the charity went into liquidation in April 2020 after an unsuccessful fight to secure the funding needed to survive.

OPEN Norwich Credit: Antony Kelly

The OPEN venue saw the former banking hall transformed into a space for gigs, conferences and awards ceremonies.  - Credit: Archant

Prof Ofield-Kerr said: “Part of 20 Bank Plain’s appeal is the impressive interior — particularly the vast banking hall — which opens up exciting possibilities as a potential exhibition, library, studio, and production space. 

“It provides the opportunity to create spaces that combine teaching, research, exhibition and collection and public access way beyond our existing estate and will become an important centre for both the university and the city.”

He said plans for the building were at an early stage but the university expects to begin using it from earlier next year. 

 Paintings and illustrations, textiles, drawing and models, photographs, films, animations, games de

Paintings and illustrations, textiles, drawing and models, photographs, films, animations, games demos and sculpture from the full range of NUA BA courses on display for the Norwich University of the Arts annual Degree Shows 2016. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

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It could have space and facilities for NUA Students’ Union, the university café provided by social enterprise The Feed, and extensive social spaces, including the existing climbing wall.

Other parts of the building will see the university’s thriving student population able to access all support and wellbeing services in one location.

Prof Ofield-Kerr said it was keen to have as much public access as possible. 

“The idea is that it will be the middle of the university and the place where we interface and relate to the city,” he said.

“The idea that other people might be using other parts of the building, say for small business development, events, and seeing what we do, is going to be really important.” 

The audience member made the comment as political leaders discussed aspects of the Conservative Part

NUA said the former Open venue will features exhibition and performance spaces, student facilities and a cafe. - Credit: � ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

It will become the fast-growing university’s 12th building in the creative quarter of the city, following the opening in September of Duke Street Riverside, which itself provided a new production theatre, performance spaces, teaching studios, student accommodation and public space.

NUA dates back to 1845 when the Norwich School of Design was founded to provide designers for local industries, but is none of the UK’s leading specialist arts, architecture, design, media universities, adding £17m a year to the local economy.

Having achieved university status in 2012, it has more than 2,000 students, many attracted to Norfolk by its burgeoning international reputation for producing talented artists in cutting edge hi-tech creative industries.

Students from Norwich University of the Arts take part in Global Games Jam. Picture: Norwich Univers

Students from Norwich University of the Arts take part in Global Games Jam. Picture: Norwich University of the Arts - Credit: Norwich University of the Arts

Prof Ofield-Kerr said the Bank Plain building would enable it to further expand facilities and increase its range of courses attracting more students with a greater international focus.  

He added: “Combining existing services and bringing new resources into Bank Plain creates opportunities to expand the workshops we need as we develop new courses in creative computing and creative technology, alongside our world-renowned courses in games design.

History of landmark building

The 20 Bank Plain building spans two postcodes in its enormity and has an equally large place in the history of banking.

Barclays Bank used to be housed in OPEN Youth Trust's current building

The regional headquarters of Barclays Bank used to be housed in the building. - Credit: Archant

The venue dates back to 1779 when Alderman James Poole, a wine merchant, sold Bartlett Gurney his premises. Gurney installed safes for bullion in the former wine cellars and the Gurney Bank was established.

In 1896, 20 banks including the Gurney Bank were amalgamated under the name of Barclay & Co Ltd. However Barclays Bank outgrew its premises and in 1926 a new building was designed with a huge banking hall, offices and strong rooms.

Barclays banking hall

Barclays banking hall in Norwich in 1964. - Credit: Archant

Reputed to have the longest banking counter in the UK it became the regional headquarters of Barclays until it was sold to the Lind Trust in 2003.

It established the OPEN Youth Trust with the vast banking hall redesigned as a venue for youth and community facilities as well as hosting gigs, shows, conferences and awards celebrations.